> Mrs. O'Neill's Blog: 2008

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Missing the point Mr Gladwell

My son sent me a link to this article by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker. After wondering if this was his idea (my son, not Malcolm Gladwell) of a Christmas present, I ploughed through the article. I found it fairly depressing. Perhaps it was the length of time he spent talking about American football which soured me, I don’t know, but I did start to wonder if Mr. Gladwell really appreciated what teaching was like. His central point seemed to be that we could improve educational achievement by recruiting the right people. Haven’t heard that one before. He accepted this might be difficult -we can’t really tell what a ‘star’ or ‘top’ teacher looks like. We can only identify those elements which make a good teacher. Then we weed out the ‘bad teachers’.
The sectors Gladwell suggests we might look to for pointers are –wait for it – the NFL and the financial advice sector. He describes the recruitment approach of Ed Deutschlander, the co-president of North Star Resource Group, in Minneapolis. He recommends you recruit by first selecting people who fit your criteria for success. You put them through a rigorous regime, losing those who don’t succeed along the way. After four years he claims he can expect to ‘to hang on to at least thirty to forty per cent’ of the original top performers.

Note to any aspiring financial gurus. Read Dickens’ Hard Times. You might find the character of Bounderby interesting.

Gladwell shifts back to teaching. According to the article ‘Eric Hanushek, an economist at Stanford, estimates that the students of a very bad teacher will learn, on average, half a year’s worth of material in one school year. The students in the class of a very good teacher will learn a year and a half’s worth of material…’ The smart solution then seems to be going for better teachers rather than making class sizes smaller. ‘And remember that a good teacher costs as much as an average one, whereas halving class size would require that you build twice as many classrooms and hire twice as many teachers.’
Got it? You select teachers from anyone who has ‘a college degree and a pulse’ (there goes several of my favorite teachers). It doesn’t matter what their qualifications are. You ‘try out’ those teachers in schools, rigorously evaluating them on a regular basis. You might hope to get one good teacher out of every four teachers tried out.
Gladwell admits that salaries would have to change because once we find those hot shot teachers ‘who can teach a year and a half’s material in one year, we’re going to have to pay them a lot—both because we want them to stay and because the only way to get people to try out for what will suddenly be a high-risk profession is to offer those who survive the winnowing a healthy reward.’
Those who survive the winnowing. Good phrase isn’t it. I wonder if Gladwell is aware of the numbers of teachers who leave teaching in the first four years, without being ‘winnowed’ but because they find the conditions too difficult. Does he really imagine the teaching profession is easy already and that there are hundreds of people lining up to get into it?
Aside from the practical problems his suggestions would create (Is he suggesting no teacher training at all? Who writes and grades the tests that chart student progress? How long before you can ‘prove’ that the teacher is the problem?) there are a number of issues in his approach that I want to take issue with.
Firstly, why does he say so little about the systems of education that most teachers find themselves in? Many of them positively interrupt good teaching. Take the obsession with testing. How often does a test mask or distort the learning that is going on? Three students get B minus in a test. One of them has a B minus because they have done the material before, found it boring but can regurgitate it with enough accuracy to get a reasonable pass. The second student has worked really hard and despite finding the material difficult has made a great stab at understanding it. The last student has a good memory and a nice turn of phrase and can flannel their way out of any test with very little effort. Each of those test results come from completely different learning experiences –but the students are graded the same. A good teacher might decide that the first student need not do the test, the second should continue on the learning journey and the third should be given a different test altogether. But where’s the room in a grade-oriented classroom for that? Students must be given their grade – regardless of how useless that label may be for their learning.
Secondly, schools are not financial institutions –but they are constantly hampered by financial issues. Otherwise we would stop coming up with good reasons for lowering class sizes, get more staff in and just do it. Teachers’ pay is another issue. A good teacher does many hours work outside of a classroom. The perception of teachers is that they have short working hours, with long holidays. This doesn’t take into account the extra time and energy you must put into teaching after hours and during vacation time. It doesn’t take into account the inflexibility of the school year. I don’t know anyone who went into teaching for the money, although I do think it says a lot about our society that we pay teachers so little.
Thirdly, I don’t believe that good teachers are just born, any more than good quarterbacks are just found. Teaching, itself can be taught. Teachers should certainly be taught whilst on the job. But teaching teachers needs to be given more than lip service. You can hardly expect teachers to do all of their job training during their free time, although many of us do.
Finally, and most importantly, I reject the vision of Education that is at the heart of Gladwell’s proposition. I do not believe Education is just about ranking students, so why should I believe it should be about ranking teachers? I accept that teachers can improve, and no doubt there are teachers who should not be in the profession – just as there are people in every profession who should move on. I think a complete overhaul of our education system is probably called for –but it shouldn’t involve the ‘old fashioned ‘ approach of setting the bar and them seeing who doesn’t manage to hop over it. We should be looking to educationalists like Dylan Wiliam to help us change our schools, not the football coaches. We are talking about the education of our children here, not the Superbowl.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Assessment for Learning in the USA

Well, I did it. I found Assessment for Learning in America.

At 7.30 am on Wednesday of last week, I found myself in Plymouth, Minnesota, parked outside an oddly shaped building with an enormous sign saying ‘Intermediate District 287’. I was there to attend a two-day workshop.

Before I knew it I was sitting in a conference room eating a chocolate chip bagel and listening to the course administrator explaining earnestly that that we really cannot smoke. Not even, she explains apologetically, outside the building. It’s against the law and the local cops make a habit of regularly swinging by on the look out for offenders. It’s an education building, you see. I get all annoyed until I remember I don’t smoke.

And then the course began properly. Our speaker, Carol Commodore instructed us to find out why the people around us are here. Some of them aren’t exactly sure. Fortunately I am not tempted to ponder the existential questions that are being raised. I know why I am here. I am here because I need to be here. I started out with so many good intentions to use Assessment is for learning (AifL) techniques in my American classroom. But the obsession with GPA (Grade Point Average) that seems to dominate everything had very nearly defeated my good attempts. How do you fit this into an American setting?

Then, an instance of providence. After much googling, I found that ETS, that’s the Educational Testing Service, were sponsoring a workshop on Assessment for Learning. Now, is this I wondered, the same ETS that allegedly made such a mess of the English National Curriculum Assessments? It was. The irony of it all appealed. And besides, desperate times called for desperate measures. So, I spoke to the person responsible for staff development at my school, and before you can say Minnetonka, Minneapolis - I am sent to the ‘Assessment Training Institute’ for one and a half days.

Anyway to get back to the bagels, or the course actually. Before long we were striding forward through the material. Carol’s presentation was music to my ears, honey to my… oh well you get the idea.

I am being reminded just why I find AiFL such a great way to teach. Carol is explaining that, of course, it is not just about assessment but about how we teach in the first place.

Day One flies by really quickly. Yes, that’s right. It was a professional development workshop and it ended too soon. Day Two I have to leave early for parent teacher conferences and drag myself away.

Lots of stuff to think about. I start small, taking notes of words they use differently. ‘Attainment’ is ‘achievement’ over here. ‘Targets’ are ‘goals’. ‘Objectives’ are ‘targets’.

Carol shows us ways to put our learning targets together so that we can show real progress to students, even when using the grade book. She talks about descriptive feedback –we all discuss how to overcome the ‘I see only my grade’ problem. She talks about schools being places of hope, where the point is learning, not grades.

Interestingly, Carol taught us just as she recommended we teach. She made clear her goals at every stage. She stopped regularly to have us discuss and summarize what we were learning. She asked us for feedback on what she had just taught us.

So I am not, by any means, the only teacher in the USA who wants to use Assessment for learning, not grading.

Carol is an independent consultant with the ETS Assessment for Learning Institute. She has her own website here.

If you read this Carol, thank you for reminding me why I love teaching.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

This week a student surprised me. He wrote that he actually enjoyed writing on the topic I had given him and ‘would not mind writing some more.’ Granted his comments were slightly out of place in his formal essay on whether or not we should be studying Greek mythology, but it cheered me up for two specific reasons.

First, he was a key member of a group of students in a particular class who seem to opt out whenever they find English boring or challenging, in any aspect.

Secondly, he had actually turned in his work, rather than done his usual act about not having access to my webpage assignments, or a computer with a printer, or a book, or a pencil or a piece of paper.

It warmed my heart a little. Perhaps it was his version of the ten dollar note that was stapled to the exam paper of a desperate student. I don’t know. My gut feeling is that even a step in the direction of trying to share my enthusiasm for writing, regardless of the motive, is a good thing. Who knows: the thought may be father to the deed… and all that.

If someone had asked me to nominate the task and subject that most enthuses students in their writing, the chances are that I would not have highlighted the essay question which motivated my student. It was: The Greek myths are outdated and irrelevant for study in a modern high school. Discuss.

What sort of things did you like to write about at school? Please comment.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


I am generally happier with teaching vocabulary in context, but sometimes I find it necessary to give students a list of words that they will be encountering in our next book or poem. That is especially the case when we are looking at older texts where familiar words are used differently. It is also helpful when giving students the correct critical terminology for language features.

I'm not sure how I came across quizlet.com. However I find it enormously helpful as a teacher. It's a site which allows you to make up vocabulary sets and share them with other users.

The story of its origins is also rather inspiring. Its founder, Andrew Sutherland, from Albany, California was fifteen years old when he decided that the easiest way to learn his French vocabulary was to make it digital. He began developing the website after school and at weekends. Andrew graduated from high school this summer and headed off to college (MIT) with the best wishes of his 200,000 users. Read about it here on his blog.

As a teacher, I think the two features which I like best are: the ability to create a group where all my vocabulary sets are accessible; and the games testing option to help you memorize. I also like the fact that Quizlet will make up tests for you, which can be customized to include questions that genuinely test a student’s understanding of the word, not just their ability to match words from a word bank.

It’s simple for my students to sign up at home, and all they need to view my vocabulary sets is a password I give them. Some of my pupils have told me they are beginning to make up their own sets for other subjects too.

If I had any suggestions for improvement, it would be a request for a feature that allowed you to hear the pronunciation of a word when you moused over it. That way the website would be playing to all the learning styles at once, visual, kinesthetic and auditory. On the other hand that would mean I would no longer have the fun of hearing my students pronounce new words as I do, unconsciously following my Scots accent. They can always go to dictionary.com to hear it in American.

Have a look at quizlet and see what you think.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Unteachable Moments

Do you recognize this student profile? Terry is a bright student who can do fairly well without trying. As you get to know them in class they impress you with their quick answers and pleasant nature. They submit most work on time and a superficial read of their work suggests that they are a competent writer navigating the questions with ease. Take their first big assignment, a critical essay on a poem. No obvious spelling or grammar mistakes to pounce on. No comma splices or misplaced modifiers. Plenty of nicely placed quotes. A varied vocabulary. MLA rules applied.

Dig deeper and you quite quickly hit the bottom. Their arguments are weak and you find yourself disappointed by the consistent failure to follow through on any promising lines of enquiry. They repeat themselves throughout their paper.

So… you speak to this student who comes to you angry that they have not achieved full marks. They look at you blankly when you try to point out the weaknesses in their work. They don’t understand. They did everything they usually do with other teachers. They haven’t made any errors have they?

You try to explain about the lack of depth. Eventually they admit what you have known all along. They haven’t thought about the question much at all. They didn’t know that you 'wanted them to come up with their own ideas'. But now they are mad at you. This is your fault. You are not very clear. You didn’t explain what was required. You hadn’t told them all of the things they were supposed to put in this paper. They reference the paper of another student who made ‘tons more mistakes’ in his grammar, but got the same grade. You don’t like them, they hint strongly. All their previous English teachers gave them higher marks. You try to explain that it is not to do with ‘liking them’. For what it’s worth you do like them but you want them to do better. They are slightly mollified. They promise to try harder on their next paper.

They hand the new paper in with a smile. They expect it to be an A they say confidently. Later you read over their paper and your heart sinks. It is no different than the paper they previously submitted.

When you return the paper, you include a detailed explanation of what they did well and how they could improve. They view it with a cold disdain. As they leave your classroom you hear their comment to another student. ‘She hates me.’

In the five minutes before your next class you ponder this remark. You know you don’t hate this student. Nothing would make you happier than to see them improve.

So what do you do next?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Fundraising for the school

Today we launched our candy sale. Over the next two weeks our high school students need to sell $150 worth of chocolate bars (each). There are all sorts of prizes to give them incentives, including getting a half day off school if you sell $100 worth before next Friday, breakfast from McDonalds for the homeroom that sells the most, and a regular raffle of $10 and $20 bills for the highest sellers each second day. If the school hits its average of $150 dollars per student we will all get an entire day off in November. Finally, whichever grade sells the most will have their nominated candidate made 'Homecoming Queen'. We have been balloted all week and there are four girls nominated for queen. Most years we have a senior (S6) queen -but there is always the chance that another year group will sell enough to have their queen 'enthroned'.

As a homeroom teacher (registration teacher)who incidentally can win $100 if my homeroom sells the most candy, I am expected to give my students plenty of encouragement. My freshman homeroom (S3) are geared up to start selling the chocolate bars this weekend. I wonder how they will get on?I have promised I will wear my 'See you Jimmy' hat all day if they sell more than the other homeroom.

I have to admit to a little culture shock over all this. I am struck by the way this event plays to the American love of 'being the best' or winning something. It's also fascinating to see how much these young people value salesmanship. Students seemed eager to take their sales pitch out on the streets, ball games and bowling alleys. I appreciate the need to fundraise for our school but I find the actual idea of having students out there selling stuff oddly uncomfortable.

On the other hand is it any different from the school fetes, sponsored walks and book fairs we have in the UK? The students seem to enjoy it and the school is well... chocolatey.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

She's back. And this time she's serious.

Back to school for a second year of the American education system.

US schools like to use the grade point system to give their students an idea of how they are doing. Being concerned about their grade gives some focus to pupils. They can't just coast along hoping to do well in final exams. The athletes for example, need to have done their homework in other subjects if they are to attend training. To me that can potentially teach a good lesson on the importance of having an all round education. But the downside of all this is the focus on summative assessment. So much of what they do is graded, so students become obsessed with their grade. They are always asking what it is, and worrying over it. Sounds good? Well you'd think so. Just to make any impact on kids is great! (even if they become neurotic in the process…) But all the grading seems to be based on an idea about how learning works which just isn't right.

The grade system assumes learning is cumulative and ordered. A chart of a students progress over a year should look like a gradual gradient which settles into a nice plateau (hopefully on a A?). In reality we don't learn like that. Learning is messy. Sometimes the grade reflects that -a big drop one week whilst certain techniques are being mastered, or a high grade when a teacher tests students about what they already know. It affects my teaching too because I feel pressure to provide more 'quizzes' and tests, or resort to the horrible multiple choice tests. Grappling with that issue has been the biggest challenge of my teaching in the USA.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Three more days to go...

I haven't blogged for ages... The term is now winding down and I am almost at the end of my first academic year here in St Paul. One thing I need to do is work out what I am doing with my blog. I need to reconnect with my old blog friends and hopefully find some new blog friends -people who are also teaching 'over here' and willing to share their expertise.

In the meantime here are some of my highlights from this year.

  1. Most surreal moment - Getting to see a real American High School Homecoming complete with Queens, Kings and decorated thrones.

  2. Most enlightening moment -My first American football game. I now understand why it is such a popular social event. The crowd seem to be there to catch up with one another and are only occasionally distracted by what is happening on the field.

  3. Favorite moment in class. The students impress me with their wonderful attempt at my accent. My catchphrase which they beg me to say - 'That's brilliant!' (Thaats Brullyunt)

  4. Most challenging moment – getting my electronic grade book to make sense.

  5. New experience – temperatures are cold enough for a snowman built on Christmas eve to survive -in a slightly stooped form- until March.

  6. Unexpectedly gratifying moment - Students graduation ceremony when they all throw their caps in the air. Corny but somehow quite good fun.

  7. Most confusion caused to other member of staff. I am asked my weight by school secretary and give it in stones.

  8. Annoying Americans by telling them how much gas (petrol) costs in the UK when they are scandalized at the $4 a gallon they are paying this summer.

Can't believe how fast the first year of teaching here has gone.

Sunday, April 06, 2008


We are back to school after Spring Break and I am enjoying warmer weather. Yesterday it was around 60 F (about 16 degrees celsius). It's been hovering around freezing, for the last few weeks, so this felt like summer, albeit a Scottish one.

Many of my students are starting to ask me if we can 'go outside' for lessons. I suppose they have cabin fever after all these months. I have fond memories of sitting outside on warm days, even in secondary school. Unfortunately it's not very practical and tends to lead to a breakdown in discipline as other classes see you heading out and feel aggrieved.

Having said that, like most teachers, I love making school fun for students. It seems to me that we should build on their natural high spirits without letting up on discipline. Is that unrealistic?

Here in America a 'quiz' is actually a test and students groan when you announce one. You are testing memory in many cases, not understanding.

With this in mind I am trying to put together some genuinely enjoyable word games for end of class or Friday afternoons. Spelling bees can get a bit intense. That's why I use 'Backspell' which is easy to play and quite often has unexpected experts. Two players, five rounds. You begin with a short word -spell it backwards and the person who shouts out the correct answer gets a point. As soon as a student reaches three points you have a winner. They can then challenge someone else.

Any other tried and tested games?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Why no seatbelts on school bus?

Last week was a sad one in Minnesota. On Tuesday a school bus was knocked over by a van which went through a red light. Sadly four students were killed in the crash with a further 14 injured. The children belonged to Lakeview School in Cottonwood which is about 140 miles west of Minneapolis.

The big yellow buses which carry kids to school in the US are everywhere in commuting times. The fact that they are so noticeable is a help to drivers. School Bus Laws exist which make it illegal in certain circumstances to pass a bus that's stopping to drop off or pick up passengers. Bus companies pride themselves on employing drivers who know their road safety. It's important after all. It has been estimated that 54 % of students attending K-12 (kindergarten to final year high school) ride on a school bus each day.

But the question that I can't help asking is: Why are these school buses not fitted with seat-belts? The news reports quote the authorities as saying that seat belts would not have made a significant difference to the injuries. The children are protected by a system called 'compartmentalization' which is considered roughly as safe as seat-belting. I find this difficult to believe. Is all the research about seat-belts faulty? What about those campaigns to get us to wear seat-belts? Is the data wrong?

A quick internet search brings me to the National Coalition for School Bus Safety. Here you can look at an account of some of the testing that has been done on the need for seat belts. The coalition also claims that the compartmentalization system does not provide adequate protection. In fact according to them current bus designs do not even merit the protection which compartmentalization engineers claim for it, as they do not follow all their the original recommendations.

Do seat-belts make us safer on buses? I can't imagine there are many people willing to say that seat-belts in other vehicles don't generally give us greater protection. So why not school buses?

One other issue I would like to know more about - the stability of the big yellow bus. The bus in this accident was knocked over onto another vehicle. Is this not a little surprising? I don't remember seeing a bus knocked over by a car or truck before. I'd be interested if anyone knew any statistics on that. Is the US School bus more likely to be knocked over?

As a teacher and a parent I'd be the first person to say we are over-protective of our kids. But in this one instance I cannot understand why a school bus wouldn't have the same safety features as a normal automobile.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

St Valentine's Day Massacre

Tomorrow is (of course) St Valentine's Day and I am not sure I can stand the tension. Tonight as I left school several (male) students were carefully filling their beloveds' lockers with pink balloons, flowers and heart shaped candy. It was all being done very carefully and with a sort of thoroughness that suggested a great deal of prior planning. I will find out tomorrow if it is appreciated.

This week concludes with a big dance for the high school students 'The Sno Daze' and we have already been celebrating it with a series of out of uniform days. Monday was 'Celebrity couples' and my next classroom neighbor teachers dressed as Sponge Bob and Patrick. On Tuesday I took part in 'Twins day' by dressing like all the other teachers in white t-shirts and jeans. Rather bulky because I had my thermals on underneath, school spirit or no school spirit I promised my mum I'd wear my vest... It's 23 C below outside.

Today was 'Retro day' and we had the 40's, 50's, 80's and 90's. Lots of girls wearing wide skirts and bobby socks, being jostled by Bananarama and Depeche Mode. I thought it might prove difficult to teach Shaft, James Dean and Marty McFly but they settled down quite nicely to Kafka and Huckleberry Finn. Next week is going to seem quite tame.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Teachers: their use and misuse

It's come to that time in the year when students are starting to feel they know me well enough to tell me what they think of me. They also begin to tell stories of their previous teachers. I always take the 'old mad teacher' stories with a pinch of salt. That's low sodium, organic, naturally sourced salt; I am in America.

My predecessor's worst habit was 'bringing coke into the classroom'.

Me: What? Crack? Snow? C-dust? Nieve? Bernie? Er... I really do read those articles about drugs in school that you find in staffrooms. The kids stare at me as if I had produced the aforementioned articles.

No, it turns out the reprobate was regularly to be found sipping from a can of coke. Talk about debauched. For all we know she might have laced it with something else, I suppose.

I read John Connell's article recently on the testing times that America is going through. The following day I came across this BusinessWeek article –
'I can get your kid into an Ivy' - from October 2007. It's about the work of Michele Hernandez who calls herself "America's Premiere College Consultant."

Hernandez coaches students in how to make an application which will achieve acceptance at the country's top (Ivy League) universities.

Her advice -which can cost up to $40 000 ranges from the sort of stuff you would have thought anyone sensible could offer about prioritizing your time, to the kinds of courses you should be taking to impress application officers. Nothing wrong with helping students prioritise. We've all had conversations with - let's call her Ashley - bright enough to get top grades but missing crucial homework and classes because of her hours at the supermarket.

But choosing subjects simply because of the impression they make irks me. The BusinessWeek article quotes her talking about a student she helped, "I helped in ways that would look good and let him be true to himself." Great soundbyte, but you can't help feeling that being true to oneself shouldn't involve being packaged and marketed by an image consultant.

Arguably Hernandez is just stepping in with a piece of wisdom, at a crucial time in a young person's life. The young person in question isn't what we might call disadvantaged, unless like me, you consider having the kind of parents who are willing to fork out $40,000 to someone like Hernandez a negative.

I can't help but feel the whole experience will teach those students a very powerful and corrupt life-lesson: if you have money you can circumvent any system or manipulate any test. Life isn't like that. There are plenty of 'tests' which you cannot buy your way out of...

Just one that comes to mind – illness. If you want to read about how real people face tests, you might want to visit guineapigmum's blog. Here the qualities under display are honesty, good humour, courage and knowing your own limitations.

The BusinessWeek article also feeds into my own concerns about what it means to be a good teacher. Am I going to educate young people or show them how to pass manufactured tests? Although the two things might not be mutually exclusive the balance is hard to find. Especially in America.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Let's all help one another...

I've been inspired by this post from Shaun's blog to think a bit more about student motivation. Here in the USA, I see students dealing with the same issues as I saw students deal with in Scotland. To work or not to work, to study or not to study? Shaun muses on the different ways teachers help students to study or to get motivated.

I was especially interested in his comment about a teacher (good old Harry Keery!) who uses a bit of healthy competition to get students on board. This week I used a similar technique by having my two hons American lit classes swap essays and peer evaluate. They both wrote their essays on the same question and book, in preparation for their semester finals which come up next week.

I tried where possible to match up students in the two classes who would benefit from seeing one another's work. In some cases this meant swapping the work of two fairly ambitious and skilled writers , so that they could be spurred on by one another. But I also found myself carefully matching students who were balanced in ability but not effort to get one of them to see what they could achieve with more work. I hoped the student who made more of an effort could also see that they were achieving more.

The thing that impressed me was the zeal with which they attacked the task. In both classes students initially admitted that they were reluctant to criticize. Then after receiving and reading papers they quickly got into the swing of picking faults with them. I explained that they had to offer specific criticism, and that they had to include clear praise where it was due.
They were allowed to write their names on the evaluation or not. Many of them did.

I checked the critiques before I gave them back.

Some of the comments included things like: 'You had a good point here but I was disappointed that you didn't say more about it.' Don't think you have correct spelling for this word - I don't know how to spell it either, but feel sure it isn't this.' 'You use 'fantasy' and 'fantasize' too much -do you know another word for this? -I would like to know too as I used it too much in my paper.' There were few overly harsh comments. Thankfully I had instructed them not to write on the essays but to write their comments on a separate sheet of paper, just in case.

Most students said that they found the first part of the exercise, which was reading and criticizing another student's work, useful. The second part of the exercise will be receiving back their own essays and peer evaluation. I hope that when they read each other's comments they will find them of use too. I also hope that it will initiate a healthy competition.

Back to the subject of motivation. Can teachers actually motivate or are they just a catalyst for students motivating each other? Do students need to rely on their own motivation?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

I lost my voice...

Last hour of 2007...

So many new experiences this last while... that my brain is in a kind of overload. Just as I compose a post about something I change my mind. I don't want to commit myself to an opinion on something based on my own limited experiences, and yet I do want to continue blogging as a way of reflecting on my own teaching.

The first semester technically finishes midway through January, but I can't help feeling that I have actually completed my first term in an American school.

I spent the first week of my holidays catching up on all the family stuff that had gone to the wall over this hectic time. This week I have been starting to think again about school and what I can do differently in my second semester. At least this time round I will know a little more about what is expected of me.

Challenges I want to take up:

Introducing formative assessment in a system that revolves around regular and (getting off the fence here) somewhat ineffective assessment. Students are obsessed with their GPA's (Grade Point Averages) and constantly ask 'how am I doing...'
I have been trying to use comment only marking first just to get their attention, but they do find it scary... I must find new ways to get the little darlings thinking more about learning than grading.

Find out more about AiFl in the States. Is there anyone else using these methods and having success with them?

Cut down on my prep and marking so that I have time to blog and read too...

Find out where to get decent bread. I genuinely try not to be one of those expats who searches supermarkets for British food, but I have to eat bread that isn't sweet again...